The "Place of Memory" in Lima: The bloody conflicts between the military and the communist guerrillas are explained on large panels in the museum. Addressing the acts of violence, which targeted the indigenous rural populations in particular, continues to be controversial today.
Credit: Adrián Portugal / CC BY-SA 4.0
"Lugar de la Memoria" (Place of Memory) looms in large letters at the entrance to the concrete building that rises off the steep coast of the Peruvian capital, Lima. Below this, in smaller letters, are written the words "tolerance" and "social inclusion" – goals to which the museum, which opened in 2015, is also committed. The controversies surrounding the museum and its conception also reflect the political conflicts involved in dealing with the civil war-like conflicts that took place in Peru in the 1990s.
"Yuyanapaq" (in Quechua: "Against Forgetting") was the title of a photo exhibition organized by the Peruvian Truth Commission in Lima in 2003. It showed more than 200 harrowing pictures from various archives related to the armed conflict between guerrillas and the military. When the German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul visited the exhibition in 2008, she was so impressed that she offered to donate two million euros to Peru to create a permanent place to exhibit it.
The Peruvian government was reluctant to accept the gift at first. It was a sensitive issue because of the military’s active involvement in the violence of the 1990s. The government finally agreed to accept the offer in 2009 and set up a commission to develop a concept for the planned museum. It was chaired by the writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature just a short time later. The Miraflores municipality provided a plot of land for the museum on the cliffs of Lima.
The concept, name and management of the planned memorial changed several times after that. First, the term "museum" was discarded and replaced with "place of remembrance." Later it became "Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion." And there was no longer any talk of the photo exhibition. The chair of the commission and the project management also changed several times. Implementing the architectural design that won the competition in 2010 proved difficult, too.
After numerous discussions and public events, the concept for the permanent exhibition was finally completed. In late 2015, President Ollanta Humala Tasso inaugurated the museum, which is under the authority of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture. It is different from many other memorials in that it offers a multi-perspective view of history. In its self-presentation, it states that the place of remembrance promotes "a critical and objective view of violent discourses that violate the integrity of the individual. To this end, it welcomes the diversity of voices and faces that experienced violence during the period 1980-2000 and seeks coexistence between different memories for mutual learning."
The first section of the elaborately designed permanent exhibition focuses on the experience of violence in Peru and its effect on the people. The second part describes how this violence was overcome, showing both the resistance of civil society and the measures taken by the state. There is also a reflection in this section on what needs to be done to prevent similar acts from being repeated. At the end, the visitor enters a memorial room where the names of the victims are projected on the wall.
The exhibition is presented in Spanish, but audio guides are available in German, English, French, Spanish and Quechua. An online virtual tour provides access to all video testimonies, texts and images. The photo exhibition "Yuyanapaq" will be on display at the National Museum in Lima until 2026.
After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison
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The sculptor Lika Mutal, who wanted to create a memorial dedicated to the victims of the many years of violence in Peru, received 32,000 names from the Truth Commission. She inscribed stones with these names and placed them in eleven concentric circles. In the center, she placed a black rock from which water continuously gushes. Originally, her work, entitled "The Eye That Cries," was supposed to be integrated into a larger memorial grove in Lima's Jesús María district. But this never happened. The monument, which was inaugurated in 2005, was badly desecrated by several politically motivated attacks.
In its final report in 2003, the Peruvian Truth Commission recommended, among other things, that a monument be created for the many victims of political violence. This led to the plan to build the "Alameda de La Memoria" memorial grove in the Campo de Marte Park in Lima. In the end, only the 400-square-metre monument was ever realized. The work by the Dutch artist was financed entirely through donations. In 2022, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture declared it a site of national heritage.
In 2006, heated debates erupted over the discovery that the monument also contained the names of 41 fighters from the terrorist organization "Shining Path." This had occurred as a result of a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which had declared the killing of guerrillas after a prison uprising to be unlawful and demanded that compensation be paid by the Peruvian government. The names of the people who had been murdered were also on the Truth Commission’s lists, which is how they became part of the monument – a fact that had gone unnoticed until then.
In 2007, the monument was badly damaged. After the extradition of fugitive President Alberto Fujimori to Peru, a group of people armed with guns appeared and handcuffed the guard. Some of the stones were subsequently removed and the black rock was doused with paint. A few days later, two congressmen accompanied by 500 supporters entered the compound and removed more stones. In 2009, the black rock was torn from its moorings after Fujimori defended himself in court against accusations that he was responsible for two massacres. The monument was desecrated several more times until 2018.
No Peruvian city has suffered more from the guerrilla warfare than Ayacucho. The former colonial city on the eastern slope of the Andes was the birthplace and stronghold of the Shining Path organization. The organization wanted to follow Mao Tse-Tung's example and carry the revolution from here into the countryside. Its leader Abimael Guzmán had previously been a professor of philosophy at the local university. The National Association of Relatives of Abducted, Detained and Disappeared Persons of Peru (ANFASEP) opened a private museum in Ayacucho in 2006.
Most locals still call Ayacucho Huamanga – which was the original name of the town located at an altitude of 2,761 meters. It was not until 1825 that it adopted its current name in honor of the defeat of the Spanish in the War of Independence. The city is a stronghold of Catholicism and has maintained its own university for over 300 years. This is where the leader of the "Shining Path," who called himself "President Gonzalo," studied and taught.
The organization was a Maoist splinter of the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP). Its name came from the party's founder, who had once declared that Marxism-Leninism was "the luminous path of the future." As in China, Guzmán wanted to move the peasants in Peru to revolt. In the beginning, most of the group’s supporters came from the universities, but it shifted to armed struggle in 1980. It carried out numerous attacks and soon controlled huge rural areas in central and southern Peru. They attacked not only soldiers and policemen, but also uninvolved civilians. But the military that was deployed to fight them also committed abductions and killings. Forty percent of the people who were murdered in Peru at that time came from the Ayacucho region.
The small museum commemorates this period in three rooms. It focuses on the struggle of the organization ANFASEP, which was founded by the mothers and wives of the disappeared in 1983. They searched for their relatives, most of whom had been abducted by the armed forces, at barracks, state offices and secret cemeteries. When Pope John Paul II visited Ayacucho in 1985, the women tried in vain to greet him at the airport with a wooden cross bearing the inscription: "No Matar" (Do not kill). They later came up with the idea to establish a museum to permanently preserve the cross and accompanying banner. The museum became the first of its kind in Peru.
The museum came into being in 2006, mainly with financial support from Germany. The first room tells the story of the ANFASEP through newspaper clippings, photos and pieces of clothing from the people who disappeared. The second room contains a reconstructed torture chamber and an exhumed grave with human bones. In the third room, photos of the members of the ANFASEP are on display. The museum also contains a small shop which sells handicrafts made by the women.